Market sentiment has stabilized over the past week as traders wait for fundamentals to either catch up to optimism or draw the budding recovery to a grinding halt. Ongoing earnings releases, first quarter growth reports from the world’s largest economies and a series of meetings attended by global policy makers can decide the fate of growth and optimism for months to come.
Heading into this pervasive fundamental wave, traders from all asset classes have taken to caution. Reflecting the more speculative side of the market, the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average has curbed its most aggressive rally in two years. On the other side of the coin, interest in Treasuries has recovered while risk premiums through credit default swaps and other financially sensitive securities have curtailed their slow improvement. Unsurpassed liquidity makes the currency market the most discerning gauge of risk appetite versus risk aversion though. The Carry Index has extended the timid decline that began at the beginning of this month. However, looking beneath the surface of this complex measure, panic is further subsiding while expectations for returns slacken. Volatility for the broader currency is the lowest it has been since before the October market crash and credit seizure (despite the presence of event risk). In contrast, the scales of risk/reward have been balanced by shrinking yield forecasts (the interest rate outlook) and souring expectations for capital returns (risk reversals). A sort of equilibrium has been struck between the potential for limited rates of return and the fading sense of fear that has encouraged reinvestment into the speculative areas of the market.
However, as we have said many times before, this should not be considered a genuine recovery. Rather than a reduced pace of recession, a natural return to optimism and sentiment must come from positive forecasts for economic activity rather than a diminished pace of contraction. The round of event risk scheduled over the coming weeks provides the most comprehensive measure for health that we have been presented in months. The most pressing burden on sentiment are the gatherings of policy officials in Washington DC. On Friday, the G7 and G20 will convene; but the topics for discussion are not certain. The most meaningful outcome to the gathering of finance ministers would be a list of definitive steps and responsibilities aimed at turning individual and national rescue plans into a global one. This was the aim of the last summit in London; but so far, there has been little in the way of remarkable progress towards this goal. Whereas government policies for economic and financial aid support risk and reward equally, earnings activity and scheduled GDP releases will impact one or the other. The UK and US growth reports have obvious implications; but the accounting data is a more nuanced measure of risk through delinquencies and writedowns.